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Get with the program: Algorithms are changing the game for recruiters and jobseekers

Published on Saturday, 06 Aug 2016

The early stages of job applications and candidate assessments processes are increasingly taking place in front of a computer screen rather than a panel of people. Globally, more and more businesses are turning to software tools and algorithms to analyse candidates’ responses to online questionnaires. The goal is to help select not only the most talented individuals, but also those that best fit both the organisation’s culture and the makeup of the relevant teams they could be assigned to.

But do candidates have any new reasons to feel nervous about applying for a new job, considering that they are having their application evaluated by a computer program?

Tim Cohn is head of campus recruitment and development in Asia-Pacific for UBS and is responsible for entry-level hiring for the financial services company’s full-time graduate programmes and its summer internship programmes in the region. He explains that UBS has developed its own in-house algorithm that has been put to use as part of its graduate application and recruitment process.

“We’ve been trialling this software in Hong Kong and across the region, not necessarily in isolation but as part of our broader selection process,” he says. “We’re trying to incorporate this alongside the more traditional methods we’ve always used.”

Professional services firm Deloitte has been using its online ability assessment screening tool for more than 10 years. Cecilia So, southern region HR director for Deloitte China, says the company evaluates all applications against an array of job-related criteria such as academic performance and achievements, language competence, and extra-curricular activities.

“Deloitte looks for talent to fill openings for its diverse service areas, therefore we welcome graduates from all disciplines to apply and participate in our consistent and fair assessment process,” So says.

“Based on the profiles submitted through our career website, we will invite suitable candidates to go through our Graduate Assessment Centre, which consists of an online ability test and an occupational personality test.” The ability test evaluates candidates’ verbal, numerical and logical reasoning skills.

So sees benefits for both Deloitte and its candidates in the use of digital assessment tools. “Given the high volume of graduate applications we receive each year, the tool streamlines our screening process and helps us identify the right candidates for the next, in-person interview stage.”

She adds that the results of the tests enable Deloitte’s hiring managers to ask more effective targeted questions to candidates who make the in-person stage. The questioning can be steered, for example, to gain a deeper understanding of the candidate’s specific strengths and weaknesses.

“Applicants or candidates also benefit, as we can make hiring decisions faster,” So says. “As personality has been factored into the process, it means there is a greater chance that the candidate would be a good fit for our culture and thus there is a greater chance for the candidate to succeed in our organisation.”

While Cohn acknowledges that there are time-saving benefits from UBS’s software tools save time, he is keen to emphasise that the company’s algorithm isn’t deployed in isolation, as manual screening is also conducted.

He also highlights the ways that digital technology works in the candidate’s favour, such as by reducing the subconscious bias that humans can be prone to. These subconscious forces can range from an interviewer’s initial impression of a candidate before a word has been spoken, the weight they may give to their intuition or gut instinct, and the tendency to prefer those who, say, share the same interests or manner of speech as them.

“[The algorithm] helps us screen our candidates without looking at which university they went to, the discipline their degree is in, their GPA scores or their gender,” he says. “It’s really focusing on the true ability of the candidate, rather than looking at any preconceptions which might exist with regards to these factors. There are no preconceptions incorporated into this tool.”

Though some companies in other parts of the world use software to examine a candidate’s social media presence, Cohn says the UBS tool looks only at the information the candidate supplies.

When it comes to candidates tailoring the information they provide to try to impress the online assessment software, Cohn urges caution.

“Changing your CV or application for the sake of the software would be a dangerous thing to do, as it’s not used in isolation. Instead, be honest and true to yourself in your CV and do as much research as possible into the company before applying. If you bring out relevant points and reference your knowledge of the particular company, and of the role you’re applying for, it would definitely put you in a good position.”

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Get with the program.